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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 12/12/16

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:55 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Monday.  I hope you all had a good weekend.  I do not have any comments at the start, so we can go straight to questions.

Josh, would you like to start?

Q    Sure.  Thanks, Josh.  Why don't we start with Aleppo?  Does the U.S. government still think it's possible to prevent Aleppo from falling to the Syrian government, or is it possible to concede at this point that it's a lost cause?

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, the United States government continues to be deeply concerned about the situation in Aleppo, and the violence there is only increasing.  The risk facing innocent civilians has been grave for some time.  It continues to worsen. Despite our best diplomatic efforts to reduce the violence and increase the flow of humanitarian assistance, the Assad government, backed by the Russians, continues to try to bomb innocent civilians into submission.  And it's a terrible situation that does not appear to be getting better.

Q    And the U.S. is saying that Russia has turned down a U.S. offer for a ceasefire.  What were the terms of that ceasefire?  And given that it seems that Russia and its Syrian partners are on the verge of winning 98 percent control of the area in Aleppo, according to the Syrian forces, why would Russia agree to our terms at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can't speak to the intricacies of the conversations that were taking place between Secretary Kerry and some of our top diplomats and their Russian counterparts.  There were other countries that were involved in these conversations as well.  So I can't speak to intricacies of the proposed arrangement, but I can certainly tell you what the goals were.  The goal was to try to end the bombing, and the few innocent civilians that remain -- try to get them out of harm’s way, and try to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance to these communities that have been shut off from the outside world for a long time.

So those were the goals all along.  And in the months and years that we've been negotiating to try to find a diplomatic solution, we've been rebuffed by the Syrians because, with the backing of the Russians and the Iranians, they’ve continued to wage this war with virtual impunity.

Q    Are you still pursuing a ceasefire effort with Russia at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, the door remains open and we continue to be interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the situation not just in Aleppo but in Syria because we know that there’s not a military solution that can be imposed on the situation.  So, yes, we are still interested in diplomacy.  We still are open to and interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.  But optimism is not high.

Q    And turning to the cyber interference in the U.S. election.  Does the White House -- well, I know you guys are doing your own investigation that the President has called for to hacking.  Does the U.S. support congressional inquiries into that, and would you cooperate with them?  And if so, do you have a preference as far as the format -- whether that should be the Senate Intelligence Committee, a select committee of some sort or other format?

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, we certainly have long supported the principle of congressional review of this matter.  There has been intensive cooperation between the intelligence community and other national security agencies and members of Congress in both parties, both before and after the election.  The briefings have been provided in a variety of settings, both classified and unclassified.  In some cases, it's briefings of members.  In some cases, it's briefings of staff.  In some cases, it's briefings of both. 

So one of the stated goals of the ongoing review that the President ordered last week by the intelligence community was to compile information that could be presented to Congress.  Presumably, that information would be useful in supporting a congressional review of this matter that is certainly warranted when you consider the stakes and the consequences.

So we support the principle of congressional review, but I wouldn't weigh in with an opinion right now about which committee should bear that responsibility.

Q    But if Congress in some format takes upon itself to start a committee and look into it, even as you're doing your own investigation, the investigation would comply and cooperate to help that get moving forward? 

MR. EARNEST:  Absolutely.  And as I mentioned, Josh, the administration and national security professionals, both high-ranking officials and those farther down the chain, have been in regular touch with members of Congress on this matter.  There’s been a substantial number of briefings and extensive communication between national security officials and Congress because of the rightful role that Congress has in this matter.

Q    And I'm sure that you saw over the weekend the President-elect and his team disparaging the CIA, bringing up the Iraq war stuff, openly disputing the assessment of the intelligence community about Russian hacking, calling it ridiculous.  Is the President concerned that the President-elect is undermining confidence in the intelligence community with those kinds of remarks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, President Obama’s experience over the last eight years has been that the men and women of the intelligence community in the United States are patriots.  These are men and women with specialized skills, in many cases, who have chosen to not just dedicate their careers but dedicate their lives to our national security.  They don't do it for the fame and the glory; in most cases, their identities are never known.  I guess in many cases, their identities are never known.  They aren't doing it because the pay is great.  In many cases, these are professionals with substantial capabilities, with areas of expertise that would allow them to get a much bigger paycheck in the private sector. 

These are men and women who dedicate themselves to this cause because they love this country.  And President Obama has benefitted enormously from their work, from their expertise, from their advice, and from their service to the country.  And President Obama is certainly not the first President to have enjoyed the benefits of the experts in our intelligence community, and I'm confident the President-elect would benefit from that advice if he remains open to it.


Q    Following up or continuing along the issue of the cyber-attack, I was wondering -- the Trump team has said that -- well, first I guess I want to ask, does the White House have a position on if the Russians were interfering, trying to -- attempting to interfere with the election, what their motives were?  Was it to actually help elect Donald Trump?  Or was it just to create chaos?  And on top of that, the Trump team has said that this is an effort to delegitimize the results of the election.  And I was just wondering, what does the White House say to the American people when they are hearing these reports about Russian interference?  There are all these investigations going on -- to the average American, this may raise questions to them, even though the intelligence isn't necessarily questioning or saying that the actual votes were hacked or anything like that, the appearance of the interference could raise questions in the minds of Americans.  So what does the White House say to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ayesha, there’s obviously a lot there.  Let me start by reminding you of the statement -- extraordinary statement that was issued by the U.S. intelligence community the first week in October.  In that statement that reflected the consensus view of 17 different intelligence agencies, they've concluded and reported to the American public that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity in an attempt to destabilize our political system.  That's a significant charge.  And the fact that the intelligence community came forward and made public this assessment is extraordinary, even unprecedented.  That's the first thing.

The second thing is there was a lot of reporting over the weekend about additional intelligence assessments that have been reached.  If that's something that can be shared publicly, that's going to come from the intelligence community.  It’s not going to come from here.  And that is evidence of the continued commitment of this administration to ensuring and even protecting the integrity of the basic institutions of government, including the intelligence community. 

That all said, you didn't need a security clearance to figure out who benefitted from malicious Russian cyber activity. The President-elect didn't call it into question.  He called on Russia to hack his opponent.  He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton.  So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on.  The last several weeks of the election were focused on a discussion of emails that had been hacked and leaked by the Russians.  These were emails from the DNC and John Podesta -- not from the RNC and Steve Bannon. 

It was the President-elect who, over the course of the campaign, indicated that he thought that President Putin was a strong leader.  It was the President-elect who indicated the potential that he would withdraw from some of our critically important NATO commitments.  It was the President-elect who refused to disclose his financial connections to Russia.  It was the President-elect who hired a campaign chairman with extensive, lucrative, personal financial ties to Russia.  It was the President-elect who had a national security advisor on the campaign that had been a paid contributor to RT, the Russian propaganda outlet. 

The President-elect’s team, his campaign, didn't make any effort to obscure this.  So all of that is information that was not obtained through intelligence channels.  It’s not information that was disclosed for the first time at the White House.  It’s all information that all of you reported on.  It’s information that all of you reported on well in advance of the election, and it’s all information that is, as far as I can tell, undisputed. 

So I think what it does, it probably leads people to a variety of conclusions.  One conclusion that it leads me to is the special responsibility that members of Congress have to take a close look at this -- particularly those members of Congress that endorsed Mr. Trump in the election.  They were aware of all this information, too -- not because they were getting classified briefings, but because it was available to the public.

So I think in some cases, we’ve seen some pretty heated rhetoric from Republicans wringing their hands about this and about the potential impact it has on our national security and the integrity of our system of government.  I think they should spare us the handwringing and fulfill their basic responsibility, considering the bar has been raised based on their political choices.

Q    But with everything that you just laid out, President-elect Trump has disputed the idea that Russia favored him or that Russia was behind or interfering, meddling in the election.  I mean he says that no one knows what’s going on.  So you basically laid out a case that that’s not the case.  And if -- and just going on what you just said, doesn’t that cast a cloud over this election -- I mean, everything that you just laid out saying that this is clearly done to favor President-elect Trump?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, a couple of things here.  The first is the conclusion about Russia’s involvement in malicious cyber activity to undermine confidence in our political system represents the consensus view of the intelligence community.  There’s no disagreeing with that.  And that’s the reason that they came forward with that extraordinary statement a month before the election.  So there is no -- there certainly should be no dispute about that.  And the material that I cited, again, is not information that you’re hearing from me for the first time.  This is information that all of you have reported on, thoroughly investigated, and discussed on television.

So, again, there’s no debate I’m seeking here.  I, as I’ve done in the past, tried to just lay out some objective facts.  The debate, the argument about the policy differences and the differences in agendas pursued by the President-elect and President Obama -- we had an opportunity to have that debate, and that was the subject of an extensive debate.  And the election didn’t turn out the way that we had hoped.  And since then, I’ve gone to great lengths to try to avoid getting into a debate with the President-elect’s team because our priority is on fulfilling the President’s basic, institutional responsibilities to effect a smooth transition to the next presidency.

So what I’ve stated in not an argument, but really just a presentation of objective facts about what all of you and the American public knew in advance of the election.  And, yes, this was all material that was known by Republican politicians in the Congress that endorsed the President-elect.  And how they reconcile their political strategy and their patriotism is something they’re going to have to explain.

Q    One more topic.  The President-elect also, over the weekend, he talked about his call with Taiwan and basically raised questions about whether the U.S. needs to be bound by the one-China policy.  Obviously, China is very upset about this and has raised serious concerns about it.  I was wondering -- I know that the Obama administration is saying that the one-China policy is still in effect, and it’s very important.  But I guess is there a concern going forward?  Because it seems like the next administration is not going to take that stand.  It’s like what are the consequences, I guess, if President-elect Trump follows through without respecting or with not respecting the one-China policy?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the United States government under the leadership of President Obama has been and remains firmly committed to our one-China policy.  That's also the policy, by the way, that previous Presidents in both parties have pursued.  And our country has benefitted from adherence to that policy. 

One reason that we have pursued that policy is because the Obama administration does not view Taiwan and our relationship with Taiwan as a bargaining chip.  Taiwan is not a source of leverage.  It’s a close partner of the United States.  Taiwan is the ninth largest trading partner of the United States.  And bargaining that away is not something that this administration believes is in our best interest.  And in fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to make the case that it’s in the interest of Taiwan.

But what we have been able to do by pursuing that policy and adhering to that policy is to have a close partner in Taiwan and a constructive relationship with China, where we've been able to make important, even historic progress on climate change; and where we've unlocked cooperation on the Iran deal.  We would not have succeeded in completing a diplomatic agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon without China’s effective cooperation.  We've been able to lower tensions around cyber issues, and we have been able to work effectively with the Chinese to ramp up pressure on North Korea. 

We certainly don't agree with the Chinese on everything.  But where common ground does exist, we've been able to make progress in a way that benefits the American people and benefits the Chinese people and, when it comes to climate change, benefits the planet.  That kind of progress is much more difficult if tensions are heightened around our one-China policy.


Q    I guess I wanted to go back to the presentation of objective facts, and it seems obvious that both Donald Trump and his campaign don't necessarily agree with that.  We heard Donald Trump on Twitter I think this morning that it’s impossible to tell who is responsible for hacking without catching them in the act.  And then John Bolton, who’s been a top advisor to him and is reportedly in line for a job at the State Department, last night floated the idea that the hack of the DNC could have been a false flag operation, and insinuated that perhaps the Obama administration was responsible for that.  Obviously, I think both those statements raise a lot of questions.  But I’m wondering what your response to either of those charges is.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’ve tried to avoid responding to some of the charges from the President-elects Twitter feed.  And what I’ve tried to do is just to present objective facts.  And I think the objective fact that's relevant here is the intelligence community, a month before the election, came forward and presented a unanimous view, a high-confidence assessment that China was engaged in malicious cyber activity to destabilize our political system.

Q    You said China.  You mean --

MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry.  Russia.  Flipping back and forth between topics.  Tricky.  But thank you for clarifying.  But listen, the intelligence community’s assessment was unanimous and direct about Russia’s malicious cyber activity.

Q    Can't you just say that he’s wrong on both these fronts?  We can -- isn’t that what you're trying to say here, that the U.S. can determine a hack even if they don't catch someone in the act, and that the Obama administration did not conduct a false flag operation on the DNC?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I will rule out that the United States, in any way, engaged in the kind of false flag operation that a wide range of irresponsible conspiracy theorists have put forward.  So we can dispense with that.  But, look, I’ve gone to great lengths to try to avoid the whole charges-counter charges. So the President-elect has said one thing on Twitter.  But 17 intelligence agencies of the United States have come forward.  They came forward two months ago to put forward their unanimous assessment about Russia’s malicious cyber activity.  And I’ll let you and the American people judge who is in a better position to defend their argument.

Q    Sticking with this morning’s Twitter, President-elect Trump said that costs on the F-35 project were “out of control,” and that he hoped to save billions on the project going forward. This is a problem.  Their project has been sort of plagued by delays and cost overruns in the past.  I’m wondering if you agree that there are still issues going forward, or if the administration’s position is that costs have stabilized for the F-35.

MR. EARNEST:  I can't speak in detail about the F-35 program.  I know that we have worked hard to institute the kinds of reforms that would limit cost overruns.  What impact that would have on the F-35 program is something we can look into for you.  As we discussed a little bit last week, this administration has put forward a wide range of cost-saving reforms that Republicans in Congress have either rejected or even refused to consider.  Now, keep in mind, these are reforms that our military leaders say would save taxpayers money and would make the country safer. 

So I guess you’d have to ask Republicans why they can both claim -- or how they can both claim to be fiscal conservatives and tough on national defense when they’re blocking reforms that would save taxpayer dollars and make the country safer.  That's hard to reconcile.  But I think one could conclude that they’re actually more focused on politics and obstructing the agenda of the Democratic President than they are on actually trying to save taxpayers money or keep the country safe.

Q    Finally, the vice president of Aetna today was testifying about the merger, and said that his company should have withdrawn from all of the Obamacare marketplaces because the program wasn’t economically viable.  So obviously there’s some question about whether they did so for reasons surrounding this merger.  But I'm wondering -- this is something he said under oath -- whether you would dispute that, and whether if a major insurer at this point said this in testimony at a trial, what that kind of says about the overall health of the Obamacare program.

MR. EARNEST:  I didn’t see the entirety of his testimony, and obviously I'm going to allow business executives to make whatever business decisions they believe is in the best interests of their company and their shareholders.  I think I'd just point out that since the Affordable Care Act went into effect stock prices of most health care companies have gone up, in some cases quite substantially.  Many health insurance companies have been able to effectively provide coverage through the marketplace that has been good for their company’s bottom line and good for their company’s shareholders.  It's also been good for the United States of America -- 20 million more Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance.  The growth in health care costs is at a near all-time low. 

So I think the benefits of our approach speaks for itself when you consider the way that millions of Americans have benefitted from health care reform under President Obama, and we've been able to design a reform of the private health insurance market in a way that ends up being both good for customers, but also good for providers as well.


Q    Josh, what does it mean that Trump has upended two of the most sensitive relationships that the U.S. has -- Russia and China?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I -- President Obama has obviously worked hard to manage those relationships in a way that gives the United States the opportunity to capitalize on common ground where it exists even as we speak bluntly about our differences.  And in each case, our differences are substantial, but in each case, effective diplomacy resulted in both those countries bolstering our effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and further isolate the North Korean regime for their destabilizing activities on the North Korean Peninsula.

Those are just a couple of examples.  There are also individual examples with regard to our relationship.  Obviously the United States was able to work effectively with Russia to destroy the declared chemical weapons stockpile of the Assad regime.  That would not have occurred had the United States and Russia not been able to work effectively together.  And because we did that there are tons of chemical weapons that are not floating on the battlefield in Syria that could potentially fall into the hands of ISIL terrorists.  Those chemicals have been destroyed because the United States and Russia worked together.

It doesn’t mean that we patched up all our differences with Russia.  It means that we identified a common interest and didn’t let our differences interfere with our ability to achieve it in a way that makes the world safer. 

A similar analogy exists around climate change with regard to the U.S. relationship with China.  The ability of the United States and China to work together to reach a mutual agreement to cap our carbon emissions catalyzed the international community in reaching an historic Paris agreement about a year later that's actually the first time the United States -- or the first time the world has come together to confront this substantial challenge.  And that's evidence of tough, principled diplomacy that doesn’t ignore our differences but rather prevents our differences from blocking our ability to advance our interests and do good things for the American people. 

And ultimately the next President will have to determine what kind of approach he wants to take in managing those relationships to ensure that we can protect our interests but also capitalize on opportunities when they arise.

Q    “Ultimately” seems to be happening right now.  There’s obviously a longtime understanding that there is one President at a time, but this President-elect seems to be almost uniquely interfering in the international affairs of President Obama.  You are having to scramble in your discussions with the Chinese.  This President-elect seems to be scrambling somewhat your relationship with the Russians.  Can you talk about the particular challenges you are facing in this transition considering that the comments and the tweets that this President-elect seems to be affecting in real time, right now, your relationships with two of the most important countries in the world?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, Gardiner, the truth is that, as we discussed quite extensively in advance of the election, that rhetoric and tweets and tactics of the President-elect were having an impact on our relationship with countries around the world.  We talked in here quite extensively about how other world leaders had raised concerns with President Obama or raised worries with President Obama about that rhetoric and some of those comments.  This is not particularly new.  They certainly do have -- take on added weight now that they don’t just come from the Republican nominee but that they come from the President-elect.  But ultimately this is part of what a transition is about, which is trying to lay the groundwork for the next President to succeed. 

So we’re going to continue to try to make very clear to countries around the world -- both our allies and countries like China and Russia that are decidedly not allies -- exactly what the longstanding policy of the United States has been, because in many cases those policies are in the best interest of the United States.  But what the President-elect chooses to do with that opportunity will be up to him.

Q    Josh, is the President concerned about the President-elect singling out individual companies like Lockheed which then see their market values plunge?  You have spoken about the power of words from the President before -- their effect on markets.  This President-elect seems to not just fail to understand that, but almost gleefully use his comments and his tweets to affect not only the behavior of companies but their stock prices, their valuations, and the rest.  Do you see that as an appropriate use of presidential power and prerogative?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, ultimately President-elect Trump has been advocating a different kind of strategy for economic growth and job creation in the country, and we're going to have an opportunity to see if it works.

President Obama has pursued a strategy that's rooted in investments in the middle class and focusing on the best interests of people who are in the middle class and working hard to get there.  Those investments in infrastructure, asking those at the top of the income scale to pay a little bit more, have resulted in a strong economy.  Our economy is currently in the midst of the longest streak of job growth on record.  Over the last 81 months, 15.6 million private sector jobs have been created, and unemployment has been cut in half since the peak of the recession.

I went through before about the positive trends that we're seeing related to wages and reduction in inequality.  The stock market has even tripled since the lows that it hit in March of 2009.  And the poverty rate fell farther and faster in 2015 than it had in any year since the 1960s.  Those the results of the economic strategy that President Obama has pursued. 

And the President-elect is already showing the different kind of strategy that he intends to pursue.  And we’ll see if it works.

Q    Josh, you obviously have, over the last year, had very critical comments about Mr. Trump, comments that you have not gone away from.  You have stood by them.  You've simply said that we're now focused on the transition.  I’m just -- you, a year ago, mentioned that Mr. Trump had fake hair.  I’m just wondering if you still stand behind that.  And is there a hair transition going on?  (Laughter.)  Is there some training of barbers to deal with this challenge going forward? 

MR. EARNEST:  So, look, I think anybody who has done this job for two and a half years I think has probably said a thing or two that he or she wished they hadn’t said.  And I think you've identified one of the things that I wish I hadn’t said.

Q    Hair-raising stories.

MR. EARNEST:  Let the puns begin.  Although, let’s keep that to Twitter.


Q    Josh, you mentioned the early October announcement from the intelligence community.  You talked about I guess this new internal look at what the evidence shows about Russia’s activities.  The President is the ultimate declassifying authority.  How much evidence, as opposed to merely findings, are you willing to declassify to show to the American people to back up these really startling claims?

MR. EARNEST:  Olivier, this process is one that the President ordered just last week, and men and women in our intelligence community are working hard to do this review and prepare as much information as possible about what transpired, about how it happened, and what Russia was hoping to accomplish. So I wouldn’t prejudge at this point what will actually be included in the final report, in the final review.  But the President certainly is interested in getting to the bottom of it.

And one of the goals of doing the review, one of the purposes of doing the review is to communicate with the American public what we know.  There are going to be some limitations in our ability to do that because we're also going to have to protect the sources and methods that are used by the international community to obtain this information.  Those are sources and methods that on an ongoing basis are critical to our national security. 

So it seems unlikely at this point that the entire report would be declassified and released.  But certainly the classified elements of the report will be shared, including with Congress in those classified channels.  And we’ll release and declassify -- we’ll declassify and release as much information as we can.  But at this point it’s hard to predict exactly what that means.

Q    The other October statement was about what China -- Russia -- sorry, you’re contagious --

MR. EARNEST:  It’s tricky, isn’t it?

Q    What Russia was trying to do.  Was Russia successful, ultimately?  And if they were, does that mean that on this President’s watch, Moscow was able to influence an American election?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, so I think it’s important, Olivier, to understand the two goals -- or sort of the two priorities that we’d identified.  The first is the protection of the basic election administration infrastructure of the country.  You’ll recall that we had detected that some entities tied to Russia had succeeded in intruding on some websites used by election administrators across the country.  Now, we also talked a lot about how difficult a task it would be to succeed in disrupting the casting and counting of ballots, primarily because our election infrastructure is decentralized and administered in a variety of ways, and so that could make it -- that would make hacking that system -- that decentralized system -- quite challenging.

But the integrity of our election system is critical to our democracy.  And so this administration did work effectively with Democratic and Republican election administrators all across the country to help them bolster their cyber defenses against those Russian intrusions.  This is an effort that was run through the Department of Homeland Security.  And there were experts in the cyber department of Department of Homeland Security who worked with officials all across the country to bolster those defenses.

And what the intelligence community has said since Election Day is that there was no increase in malicious cyber activity from the Russians against the elections infrastructure that interfered with the ability of people to cast ballots and have them counted accurately.

So that was a priority.  And there was an enormous amount of work, much of which took place behind the scenes, that went into protecting the integrity of the system that we have in this country for casting and counting ballots.

Separately, there was a concern about the hack-and-leak strategy that Russia had used against Democrats and allies of the Clinton campaign.  And in the five weeks since Election Day, we've heard from a lot of experts and analysts reviewing the election and trying to understand how this surprising outcome came about.  And there are a variety of theories and analyses that have reached a variety of different conclusions.  So I’m confident that people will take a look at all of this. 

I know that there are some people, particularly on the Democratic side, who have been harshly critical of some of the decisions that FBI Director Jim Comey made in releasing some information about the Bureau’s investigation of Secretary Clinton. There are others who have been critical of the electoral strategy pursued by Secretary Clinton -- both in terms of her messaging, but also in terms of her travel in battleground states.  This is something I think people are going to be chewing over for quite some time as they try to read the electorate and discern what factors may have contributed to the outcome.


Q    Josh, you rattled off a number of facts, as you said, publicly acknowledged, widely reported information linking Russia and Donald Trump --

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, that are not in dispute.

Q    Right.  But that also does sort of take the White House off the hook for not having launched this probe earlier.  Do you regret not having launched it prior to the election? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, to be clear, the only reason that the intelligence community could release a unanimous assessment of Russia’s malicious cyber activity is because they've been investigating it.  So this is something that our intelligence community and our national security infrastructure was closely monitoring.  They've been doing that for a long time.  And they are aware, and we've discussed the unique vulnerability that the United States has in cyberspace, given how our advanced economy is so reliant on those kinds of Internet connections for elements of our daily life.  And so our national security infrastructure is oriented to monitor threats to that system and to try to protect against vulnerabilities.  So this is something that we've been closely watching since long before the election started.

Q    Well, why not announce the probe back when the DNI released the statement in October?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, the reason that the statement was released was precisely because there was an ongoing probe.

Q    Right, but this new probe you're characterizing as something new, something more than what had already been --

MR. EARNEST:  This review is just a retroactive one.  So this is a probe that won't just include a review of malicious cyber activity in the 2016 election; it also will include a close look at potential cyber intrusions in 2012 and 2008 that --

Q    -- think that was required in October?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, the malicious Russian cyber activity that was announced in October was already under investigation.  So this was something that we were already looking at.  That's the only reason we were in a position to talk about it.

Q    Because you know -- because Donald Trump and a number of his team members are characterizing this as politically motivated, not just false flags, but frankly, made up by the administration, saying -- the President-elect himself tweeted out, saying if this was known why wasn’t it said prior to the election?  You point out that in October we were saying that, yes, but for the White House not to have -- or at least be perceived to have put its shoulder behind this kind of probe the way that the President has now done is what I'm trying to get at.

MR. EARNEST:  I see.

Q    Why didn’t he do that then?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, in part because -- well, again, so it's important for people to understand that this is something that was the subject of an ongoing investigation.  Even in the days and weeks leading up to the election.  Our intelligence community, our national security agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, were closely watching Russia’s malicious cyber activity.  There was an ongoing investigation.  It was being investigated.  It was being closely watched in order to protect our democracy.

What is also important is not just the mobilizing and marshaling of that expertise to protect the country in cyberspace, but also to protect the integrity of the institutions.  You all covered the election closely and know how it would have been consumed if the President had -- to borrow your phrase -- put his shoulder against the intelligence community and pressed them to conduct an investigation that would have called into question, just weeks before an election, whether or not politics was driving that decision.

That's why, at every turn, President Obama prioritized the integrity of our national security infrastructure and our intelligence community.  Now that the election is over, it's important for the integrity of our democracy for our intelligence community the take a look at what happened in 2016 and in 2012 and in 2008 to ensure that as our country conducts future elections that we can more effectively confront some of the malicious forces that may be seeking to interfere in our system of democracy.

Q    But to counter some of those accusations about the motivations of the administration in announcing that, can you just make clear whether -- rule out, if you would, if that is, in fact, the case that you were not in any way suggesting that the results of the election had been compromised?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think this goes back to Olivier’s question -- I'm trying to make sure that we don't talk past each other.  I think the thing that is really clear and something that we have acknowledged for weeks now is that the intelligence community did not detect any increase in malicious cyber activity on Election Day that interfered with the casting and accurate counting of ballots.  That is not my opinion; that is based on the close monitoring by the intelligence community and other national security agencies that have a responsibility of protecting us in cyberspace.

But what’s also clear is that the results of the hack and leak operation carried out on the orders of Russia were extensively discussed in the weeks before Election Day.  The results of those operations were extensively discussed.  There was a daily leaking of John Podesta’s emails at websites that all of you news organizations closely monitored.  And those are editorial decisions that are left in your hands and the hands of the people who work at your news organizations.  But you weren’t waiting for leaks from the RNC or from Steve Bannon. 

And I think that's illustrative of -- well, people can draw their own judgments, and obviously the intelligence community will do the same thing.  But you don't need a security clearance to get access to that information to draw your own judgment.

Q    Well, there are some on Capitol Hill -- Democrats among them -- who are saying the White House has pulled its punches with Russia, and on this particular issue they have been concerned that there hasn’t been a stronger response.  At the time, the White House said there would be a proportional one.  Has there been a response?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, at the same time that we discussed the fact that there would be a proportional response we also made clear that the details of the response were something that we were unlikely to be able to discuss in public.  So if --

Q    Were they undertaken at all?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, even to confirm the nature of our response at this point -- well, I'm just not going to be in a position to discuss exactly what the response is or will be.  There are a variety of reasons for that.  But I can offer the same assurance that I did before the election that the President and his team believe that a proportional response is warranted.

Q    Is it safe to assume that the announcement of this probe isn't the extent of the response?

MR. EARNEST:  At the risk of going down a slippery slope on this, yes, it is fair for you to assume that this probe is not the extent of the response to Russia for their malicious cyber activity in the run-up to the election.


Q    I just want to clear something up, Josh.  You seem to be -- correct me if I’m wrong -- but you seem to be suggesting that Russia didn’t have to hack ballot machines or the actual vote tally in order to have a determinant effect on the outcome of the election.

MR. EARNEST:  I guess what I’m doing is I’m trying to be as specific and as clear as I possibly can about what our approach to confronting this challenge was, and the first was taking a close look at what steps would be necessary to protect our elections infrastructure and to protect the accurate casting and counting of ballots. 

And there was a whole lot of work that took place behind the scenes in the weeks and even months leading up to Election Day by experts at the Department of Homeland Security with election administrators all across the country to protect their systems against Russian cyber intrusions.  And what we have learned since Election Day is that, based on the careful monitoring of a variety of national security agencies, we can conclude that there was no increase in the Russian malicious cyber activity on Election Day that was aimed at disrupting the casting and counting of ballots.

But, separately, you’ve asked this other question about the hack and leak operations carried out by the Russians.  There’s no denying that the results of those hack and leak operations were part of the debate in the days and weeks leading up to Election Day.  That also is just an objective fact.  There was extensive coverage of the daily leaks of John Podesta’s emails.  That’s just -- that’s true.

To the extent that any Republicans were hacked, the only time that occurred as far as I can tell is when Colin Powell’s emails were hacked just so that they could release information critical to Secretary Clinton.  That seemed to be the only revealing thing in the emails from General Powell’s email account that were released.

So, again, I think there’s -- and again, that’s not based on any intelligence assessment.  That doesn’t require a security clearance.  That’s something that was widely reported by all of you, and I think an indication of the kind of information that people can use as they factor into their judgment about what Russia may have been trying to do.

Q    But you accept that it’s possible that that alone could have affected the outcome of the election?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned in response to Olivier, there are a variety of factors that many people legitimately think contributed to the outcome, and whether you want to question the propriety of some of FBI Director Comey’s pronouncements or the wisdom of Secretary Clinton’s strategy for campaigning -- those kinds of things are open to debate and I think will be open to careful analysis by political scientists for months, if not years, as they try to determine why the election outcome was so surprising to so many people, including both candidates.

Q    Just to follow up on Margaret’s question -- this question has a proportional response.  There must have been a debate here at the time about whether your response should be covert, and I'm wondering if, in retrospect, you think -- whether you think there could be a revisiting of that decision, given the level of unease among U.S. citizens about what’s happened, and level of unease in democracies like Sweden and Germany, where people believe that their system of government is under threat.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think what I will acknowledge is that there are a variety of policy questions that are raised in the United States and in democracies around the world based on what transpired in the United States on Election Day, and in days and weeks that led up to Election Day.

I'm just not going to be in a position to talk about the internal conversations about a potential proportional response other than to say that those discussions have occurred and the President concluded that a proportional response was appropriate. But at this point, I just can't get into the wisdom of how or whether or when that proportional response could be publicly discussed.

Q    Would you expect the President to revisit that decision once the results of the review have come through?

MR. EARNEST:  Not necessarily.  I mean, look, the thing that I've said all along is that proportional response is appropriate; we may or may not be in a position to disclose what that response is.  That's still true.  There still could be a time when this is something that we're able to discuss more publicly.  If there is, that wouldn't necessarily reflect a change in our position or strategy.  But at this point, it's difficult to speculate exactly how or whether that will play out.

Q    Well, except that the Vice President said that he hoped that we didn’t know what would happen -- right? 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, he did say that at one point.  And, look, I think that goes to many of the questions that are raised about whether or not discussing the proportional response in public could undermine the effectiveness of that response.  But it's, ironically enough, difficult to assess that if you can't discuss the response itself in public.


Q    So is this where the White House intends to leave this issue of how determinative or not the hacking operation was or wasn’t to the outcome of the election?  You're essentially saying it's one of many factors that happened during the final run-up to Election Day, and the President can't determine whether that was more significant than whether Secretary Clinton had campaigned here or there, or what -- is that where you leave us?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, at least for today, I don't have any sort of election analysis -- official White House election analysis to put forward. 

Q    That's what people want to know -- does the President think that the Russians swung this election somehow.  Simple question.  It's not a simple question, but it's the question -- that's what people want to know.  Does the President think the Russians swung this election somehow?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think what we're focused on right now is trying to understand exactly what the Russians did, collect as much available information as we can about that, try to assess what their motives were.  And, look, I think this may be a question that people are going to continue to ask as Congress steps forward to fulfill their responsibility that they have to take a look at this.  And, look, I think in some ways this is going to be a pointed question -- in some ways, this is not just a question to ask the President; this is actually an even better question to ask supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign, many of whom now, at least in Congress, are worried about the answer to that question.

Q    Because you think that they will conclude that the hack and leak operation did, in fact, swing the election?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know what they would conclude.  But what we have right now on Capitol Hill is a situation where many Republicans who offered their endorsement of the Trump campaign, less than five weeks later are now publicly worrying about Russian influence.  And again, how they reconcile their political strategy and their patriotism is a question that they’re going to have to answer.

Q    Just on one -- you talk about on Election Day and the analysis that's been done -- you say there was no increase in Russian malicious activity then.  The word “increase” kind of stands out.  Was there some malicious Russian activity going on that did not increase on that day, so there was a baseline of ongoing malicious Russian activity?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly know that there is a baseline of Russian malicious activity in cyberspace, and I think that's a given and I think it's something that we're all aware of.  For more details about what the intelligence community perceived on Election Day, that's something you’ll have to ask them.  But what --

Q    You're essentially ruling out that the Russians did something on Election Day that altered the vote count -- that somehow, mechanically or otherwise, in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, where there was this “surprising outcome” -- you are ruling out that the Russians did anything that caused that?  Or are you not ruling that out?

MR. EARNEST:  What I am saying is a little repetitive, but that's by design.  I'm trying to --

Q    But that's the issue, and we understand -- the hack and leak and the election.

MR. EARNEST:  But I'm talking specifically about this question that you're posing about cyber activity and the counting and casting of ballots.  And for more precision, I'd refer you to the intelligence community.  But I think it's pretty clear what I'm saying here, which is that on Election Day there was no observed increase in malicious Russian cyber activity that altered or disrupted the accurate casting and counting of ballots.

Q    There are a number of electors who are requesting an intelligence briefing before they vote.  Does the White House support that?

MR. EARNEST:  I saw those reports shortly before I walked out here, and I understand that some of them may have sent a letter to the intelligence community or to the White House.  I haven't seen the letter, so we'll take a look and --

Q    Conceptually, does the White House support that?  Or do you think we need to just kind of close the book on this?

MR. EARNEST:  I'd want to take a look at the letter before I respond.

Q    And just one last thing.  On these reports about the President-elect declining daily presidential briefings, intelligence briefings, how concerned is the President about that in terms of the security of the nation, which is obviously is his main objective?  How concerned is the President that the President-elect is apparently not doing these briefings on a daily basis?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess a couple of things come to mind. The first is over the course of the Republican primary, the President-elect had criticized President Bush for not sufficiently protecting the country from 9/11, and even criticized him for not carefully listening to the Presidential Daily Briefing that was later declassified that warned of 9/11. 

So the President-elect, certainly firsthand, understands how important the presentation of this intelligence information is.  And as I mentioned at the top of the briefing, President Obama has deep respect and admiration for the men and women of our intelligence community that work literally through the night to compile an intelligence briefing for the President of the United States that includes the most accurate, up-to-date information possible.  And in order to make good decisions, a President has to have access to good information.  And by good information, I mean information that is accurate, that is up to date, that is presented clearly, and President Obama has benefitted from that.

The decisions that he’s made have benefitted from that, and the American people have benefitted from that.

What’s also true is that the intelligence community needs to be able to operate without fear of retribution for presenting bad news.  That's often part and parcel of the Presidential Daily Briefing.  These are the bad things that are happening in the world, or these are the potential negative consequences for the United States as a result of a global event.  It’s important for the intelligence community to not be in a position where these professionals who are dedicating their lives to the protection of the United States are not subjected to retribution just because the person who is reading the briefing may not want to hear bad news.

Q    So it sounds like you're saying the President is concerned that the President-elect is not taking these briefings.

MR. EARNEST:  What I’m saying is that President Obama has benefited enormously, and the country has benefited enormously, from his ability to make good decisions based on good information.  And the only way that he is able to obtain that good information -- and by good information I mean up-to-date and accurate information -- is because of the tireless efforts of the experts and patriots in the intelligence community.


Q    Would it then be a mistake for the President-elect to not do the same, especially once he assumes the office?

MR. EARNEST:  Listen, the President-elect is going to have to develop his own routine and his own strategy for educating and equipping himself with the necessary knowledge to make good decisions for the country.  And like every other American, I’m hoping he’ll do that.

Q    Let me circle back on the one-China question that you fielded earlier.  How important is that policy for U.S.-China relations and the stability in that region?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned the day after this issue arose -- or at least the first time that this issue arose in the Briefing Room, which I think was a week ago now -- I made clear that this is an issue the Chinese government considers to be highly sensitive.  And disrupting this policy could have a disruptive effect on our ability to work with China in those areas where our interests do align.  That reflects the high priority that China places on this policy and on Taiwan. 

I would also point out the United States values the close partner that we have in Taiwan.  Certainly, President Obama doesn't view Taiwan as a bargaining chip.  This is our ninth largest trading partner in the world and shouldn’t be used as a point of leverage.  It doesn't end up being good for our relationship with China.  It also doesn't end up being good for Taiwan. 

Q    Last, ask you about this notion that some are floating that what’s essentially going on -- sort of the false flag point that was made earlier -- is when people talk about hacking by Russia, they talk about this issue or that issue, and even as Ron mentioned, some nine Democrats and I believe one Republican elector are suggesting they’d like to see sort of the intel breakdown of what’s happened vis-à-vis the Russian hacking.  The long and short of it is people are suggesting that there are some out there who are trying to delegitimize the election of President-elect Trump.  Can you understand why they might have that perspective when they look at it broadly through that lens?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what I would say -- I think what I can account for is the conduct and language that's being used by this White House and by this President of the United States. 

And less than 12 hours after the election results were in, President Obama was standing in the Rose Garden committing his administration and his own personal effort to executing a smooth and effective transition for the benefit of the country and so that the Trump administration could get off to a running start. 

A day later, the President of the United States invited President-elect Trump to sit with him in the Oval Office for 90 minutes, talking about a range of important issues.  And then in an unprecedented fashion, we invited all of you into the Oval Office to hear directly from the President-elect and the President of the United States as they articulated their shared commitment to a smooth and effective transition.

So I think that the actions and words of the President of the United States in the 48 hours after the election I think make clear his commitment to fulfilling his institutional responsibility to give the incoming President the best opportunity to succeed in uniting and leading the country.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I want to change subjects and ask you about a letter that Neil Eggleston sent to Senators Feinstein and Burr regarding the Senate Torture Report.  In that letter he told them that the report is going to be kept in the Presidential Archives but that President Obama instructed the Archivist to keep that material classified for the full 12 years that's allowed under the law.  What I want to know is if the report or parts of the report are going to become declassified anyway, why not just make them declassified now?  Why wait the 12 years instead?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the important thing to remember here, Jordan, is that a substantial portion of the report has already been declassified, right?  That there’s an executive summary and other critically important parts of the report having been declassified and released so the American people could consider it.

With regard to other aspects of the report, ultimately the intelligence community will have to review the material that's included in that report to determine what can be released.  And I certainly think the hope is that there will be an opportunity for the American public to consider the findings of the report and learn some lessons about what kinds of steps we want to take as a country to protect ourselves and how important it is to ensure that those steps are consistent with our values.

Q    Wouldn’t that decision take on a little more urgency given the concern that you've expressed, that the President has expressed, about what President-elect Trump has said about the use of torture?  Why not speed up that decision on declassification?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there’s ample information included in that report on this topic that has already been declassified.  And we’ve had an opportunity to wage this debate in public on a number of occasions, and I know that there’s at least one official that’s been nominated to a senior position in the incoming administration who has expressed the same kinds of views that are included in that report about the ineffectiveness of torturing terror suspects.


Q    The President is going to sign the 21st Century Cures Act in a signing ceremony tomorrow across the street here. Signing ceremonies have been pretty rare of late around here.  President Obama has actually done fewer than his immediate predecessors, especially in the last couple of years.  Is that an indication that the President feels that the legislative accomplishments during his presidency haven’t been worth celebrating?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I think it’s an indication that there’s been very little passed by Congress under Republican leadership that’s worthy of a signing ceremony.  Not going to have a signing ceremony for a post office naming.

And when you take a look at what Congress has passed, you can do it pretty quickly.  I know there are a variety of ways to measure the ineffectiveness of a particular Congress, and there are a variety of metrics that you can use to show that Republican -- that this most recent Republican-led Congress has been as ineffectual as any in history.

One metric for that is to actually take a look at the bills that President Obama has vetoed.  And we can get you the specific metrics, but there aren’t many.  It’s not as if Republicans use their significant majorities in the House and Senate to pass bills cracking down on illegal immigration, or slashing business tax cuts, or slashing business taxes, or slashing taxes for wealthy people -- all things that Republicans claim that they support and campaigned on getting done. 

No, what Republicans have done is they have passed a handful of bills that do nothing other than strip away Obama administration initiatives.  So President Obama, for example, had to veto a bill passed through reconciliation that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act.  Republicans passed legislation that would have repealed regulations governing clean air and clean water and labor regulations.  They’re not advancing their own agenda, they’re just trying to take away the President’s.

And I think this underscores the intellectual vacuum at the center of the Republican Party right now.  It’s how they succeeded in nominating and electing a President that many of them doubt shares their conservative philosophy.  We’ll see.  And in fact, the only bill that President Obama has signed and has been overridden by Republicans in Congress is a bill that Republicans tried to fix that same day to address the concerns that President Obama had raised in vetoing the bill -- “immediate-onset buyer’s remorse,” one smart political operative labeled it.

I think it’s an indication of just how bankrupt the Republican governing agenda has been.  There isn’t one.  And I think the fact that there have not been many signing ceremonies and not been many vetoes is as clear an indication as any.

Q    Well, obviously, there’s two actors in this, right?  There’s the President and there’s Congress, and they have to work together in most cases, unless you have a super majority, to get anything done.  But historians tend to look at presidencies for their body of legislation.  So can you talk a little bit about what President Obama, over these past eight years -- since this may well be the last -- certainly one of the last bills he’s going to sign, probably the last he’ll do so publicly -- what is the President most proud of as a legislative accomplishment?  And is he disappointed, looking back, that he was not able to fulfill many of the promises legislatively that he set out to do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there’s no doubt that the President has been deeply disappointed at the lack of effort put forward by Republicans to try to find common ground where it actually exists.  The President has been profoundly disappointed that Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked consideration of a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would have passed had it come up for a vote.  But House Republicans made a cynical political decision to prevent that bill from even being considered.  And the President is quite disappointed by that.

I will say, though, overall, when you consider the kind of legislative progress that we were able to make when Democrats were in charge of the Congress, the President’s resume looks quite strong.  Even when viewed over the span of eight years, that was a remarkably productive two-year period.  Everything from the Recovery Act that contributed to the President’s strategy to prevent a second Great Depression; the Affordable Care Act that expanded access to health care for 20 million Americans; a reform of Wall Street that has ensured that taxpayers are never on the hook for bailing out a Wall Street bank for making risky bets.  But in the time since the Wall Street reform bill has been signed into law, we’ve seen a remarkable, impressive economic growth, job creation and increase in the stock market. 

So those are three examples off the top of my head.  There’s one other example that I think is also relevant here.  In 2012, while Republicans did have a majority in the House, President Obama did succeed in doing something that Republicans had blocked for almost 20 years, and that’s getting them to raise income taxes.  But Congress did vote to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Americans in the lame duck period after the 2012 election.  And that was the fulfillment of a promise that President Obama had made on the campaign trail, and that has had a positive impact on our deficit.  It’s had a positive impact on the notion of a fairness in our tax code.  And it’s had positive benefits for our economy.

And we can run -- I’ll spare you running through sort of the metrics that we can use to evaluate the wisdom of this strategy, but when the incoming administration lays out their economic strategy, I hope you will go back and take a close look at the impact, the strength that the American economy enjoyed under President Obama’s leadership and see if the performance of the next administration measures up.

Q    Josh, this tomorrow’s signing, the last -- is that the last bill that the President is going to sign in public?

MR. EARNEST:  I would expect it will be the last bill that he signs in public, but maybe they’ll pass something quickly and interesting after -- when they return in January.  But I don’t anticipate that will happen.


Q    Circling back to the Presidential Daily Briefing.  Do you think that the incoming President has any reason to doubt the intelligence during that briefing?  Has President Obama every questioned some of the intelligence that happens during the Presidential Daily Briefing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, Maggie, the people who are presenting the briefing are people who are seasoned intelligence professionals.  They’re experts in their field.  In some cases, they are individuals who have a remarkable educational background or academic background in a particular field, or they’re experts in technology.

The intelligence professionals who compile the Presidential Daily Briefing work very hard to do so.  And the do so without a lot of glamour.  They don’t do so in the limelight.  But they ensure that the President has the most accurate, up-to-date information possible in order to make good decisions about the country and our national security.

There certainly are occasions where the President wants to have a discussion about some of the CIA findings or the findings from the intelligence community to understand why they’ve reached certain conclusions or why they’re putting forward some analysis. And that does mean that the President is asking questions, and then the intelligence community is coming back to him to further explain what is being presented.  But the President has never doubted the motives of the people who are presenting that information.  And that’s because the President has insisted that the intelligence that’s presented to him should be accurate and up to date, and not influenced by politics, and not presented in a way that seeks to curry favor with the person receiving the briefing.  If the news is bad somewhere in the world, the President wants to know, so that we can have an opportunity to try to address it.

That’s why I think it’s particularly important that intelligence professionals, as they have been under the Obama administration, understand that they’re not going to face retribution just because they present some bad news.  In some ways, that’s the whole point of the exercise, is to make sure that the President understands the dangerous and threatening things that could be happening around the world so that we can properly orient our defenses to protect the American people.

Q    If this intelligence is so important to helping shape President Obama’s decisions around the globe -- President-elect Trump is having a very public rift with the CIA right now.  How detrimental is that to him coming in as President, and is that something that we should be concerned about?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I’ll let the President-elect work to establish his own relationship with the intelligence community.  I can just tell you that President Obama has benefitted enormously from the hardworking professionals at the intelligence community who literally work through the night to provide him the most up-to-date, accurate information in the morning so that he can spend his day making decisions that are rooted in that information.  The decisions and the outcomes are going to be better if the President has access to accurate information.  And that’s certainly the expectation that he has for the intelligence community, and they’ve delivered.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Just three quick questions before the sun starts setting here.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Three?

Q    When you mentioned -- in all the discussion we’ve had about the Russian hacking, you also mentioned certain ties to Russia within the Trump campaign.  You mentioned that Donald Trump didn’t disclose financial ties to Russia, that he had at one point called on Putin to look into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Did you put those out there as a suggestion that it is possible that there were ties to this hack within the Trump campaign?

MR. EARNEST:  I observed these facts because they seem relevant to the judgment that people might draw upon as they assess the impact of Russia’s malicious cyber activity.  These are objective facts that were not produced by the White House or the intelligence community.  They don't require a special security clearance.  They don't require any special knowledge that's found anywhere other than in the newspaper or on cable TV. 

So I don't have a new intelligence assessment to present.  But there certainly is ample information for people to consider to draw their own conclusions about what Russia’s motivations may have been in undertaking this unprecedented malicious cyber activity.

Q    So you're saying they seem relevant based on Russia’s potential motivations, and not going the other way?

MR. EARNEST:  When you say going the other way, what do you mean?

Q    That you're not suggesting that they're relevant because there could be a possibility that there was some working together there.

MR. EARNEST:  I can't speak to that.  What I’m merely presenting is as people consider this question that Ayesha asked me about whether or not Russia was seeking intentionally to benefit the Trump campaign.  My response is I don't have an assessment from the intelligence community to share with you.  But there’s ample information that people can and should use that was available before the election that doesn't require a security clearance that will allow people to reach their own conclusions.

Q    Okay.  And you mentioned that -- when we talked about Donald Trump saying that there’s no evidence that Russia was behind this hack, your response was that there shouldn’t be a question there.  But what is the administration’s take on the fact that he does repeatedly say this regardless?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I don't want to get into a place where there are charges and counter-charges being traded between the President-elect’s team and the President’s team, because our most important priority right now is trying to fulfill our institutional obligation to ensure a smooth and effective transition.

So you have the argument that's put forward by the President-elect, and you have the statement that was put forward by the intelligence community two months ago revealing their unanimous conclusion that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity in an attempt to destabilize our political system.

Q    Do you see any risk in those statements that are repeatedly made publicly?

MR. EARNEST:  Which statements are you referring to?

Q    Donald Trump’s statements that there is -- refuting the evidence that the intelligence community has talked about. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, there are plenty of concerns I could express about any number of things that the President-elect has said, but the time for those debates has come and gone.

Q    Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Mark, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks.  Josh, on the matter of the PDB, there are some days when there is no PDB listing on this schedule that we receive for the President.  Are those days on which he does without a PDB?

MR. EARNEST:  Those are days in which the PDB is presented in writing to the President.  And I’ll just say in general that there is a mechanism for the kind of feedback that I was referring to earlier, where, if the President has questions or is seeking additional information based on what’s presented, there is a mechanism for him to seek that that doesn't require a face-to-face interaction.

Q    Is that the case on weekends, as well?  A written PDB?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I can say most generally is that on the days in which there is not a PDB listed, typically what occurs is the President would receive the PDB in writing or in written format I guess is what --

Q    President-elect Trump said on Saturday when he was taping the Fox interview that he expected that -- to speak with President Obama that day.  Did he? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I’ve -- as we've encountered in here a few times, I’m going to protect the ability of the President and the President-elect to consult privately.

Q    But since he mentioned it, can you confirm it?

MR. EARNEST:  I can't confirm it.  If the President-elect and his team choose to do that, they're certainly entitled to that.  But I’m going to go -- I’m going to do my best to protect the ability of the President and the President-elect to consult privately.

Q    And lastly, on the question of bill signing, did the President wait up late on Friday night to sign the CR? 

MR. EARNEST:  I believe that that's how it -- it was signed --

Q    He signed by hand?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, it was signed by hand shortly before he received the official notification that the bill had been signed.

Q    It was about 10 of 1:00 a.m.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, so it was a late night on Friday night.  Okay?

Q    Okay.

MR. EARNEST:  All right, thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.

2:25 P.M. EST